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U.S. sends another combat ship near survey site in South China Sea

Christian Fernsby |
The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet called on China to end its bullying behavior in the South China Sea, as the U.S. sent a warship near to where a Malaysian-contracted oil exploration ship is operating and in proximity to a recently deployed Chinese survey vessel.

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Topics: U.S.    SOUTH CHINA SEA   

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said in a press release that on Thursday it had sent the USS Montgomery and transport vessel USNS Cesar Chavez near the West Capella, the oil exploration ship which is currently operating within Malaysian waters.

The Chinese survey vessel Hai Yang Di Zhi 8, escorted by China Coast Guard (CCG) ships and maritime militia, has been conducting a survey nearby since April 15. That’s widely viewed as an attempt to intimidate Malaysia out of exploiting resources in waters that China also claims.

The USS Montgomery is the second American littoral combat ship to sail in that area of the South China Sea within two weeks, after the USS Gabrielle Giffords patrolled there on April 26.

“The Chinese Communist Party must end its pattern of bullying Southeast Asians out of offshore oil, gas, and fisheries. Millions of people in the region depend on those resources for their livelihood,” Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a press release.

Tensions have been rising in the resource-rich South China Sea, which China largely claims for itself, notwithstanding conflicting territorial claims involving five other governments. Assertive behavior at sea and recent Chinese declarations of administrative authority over the contested area have drawn protests from both neighboring countries and the U.S. government.

China frequently sends research vessels, coastguard ships, and paramilitary forces to assert its claims. The CCG is much bigger and better armed than most navies in the region, including that of Malaysia. But experts say that by sending ostensibly civilian law enforcement vessels, China increases pressure on its rivals without allowing territorial disputes to spiral into war.

James R. Holmes, a professor of maritime strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, said the recent deployments of U.S. littoral combat ships hint at a new role for these advanced but smaller vessels, which may be better suited to countering gray-zone tactics employed by China.

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